Tri, tri again

Published 8:55 am Friday, May 20, 2011

A bicyclist runs alongside his bike in May 2007 during the Land Between the Lakes Triathon. This year’s triathlon begins at 9 a.m. Sunday with a quarter-mile swim through Albert Lea’s Fountain Lake. -- Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune

Egdewater Park will be flooded with triathletes Sunday during the seventh annual Land Between the Lakes Triathlon.

Beginning at 9 a.m., participants, alone or part of a relay team, will swim, bike and run a total of nearly 24 miles through and along Fountain Lake and in rural Albert Lea.

The Land Between the Lakes Triathlon is the second in the 11-race Tri-Minnesota Series and the first with an open-water swim. The season’s first triathlon, held May 7 in Alexandria, is swam in an indoor pool.

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According to race coordinator Steve Merfeld, many athletes use the Land Between the Lakes triathlon to test themselves before the bulk of the triathlon season begins. He said many of the state’s top triathletes compete and around 90 percent come from out of town.

“It’s a good focus for Albert Lea,” Merfeld said. “It’s a chance for people who have never been here to see what we’re all about.”

Merfeld said that of the triathlon’s current 120 registrants, only about five are from Albert Lea. He said Fountain Lake is around 58 degrees and that is enough to scare off casual triathletes.

The triathlon’s numbers are down from 160 last year, and Merfeld credits that to the cost of gas and an unusually cold spring. Some athletes are coming from out of midwest, though, including an athlete from Hawaii and Delaware, and two athletes from Thunder Bay, Ontario.

“It brings in a lot of people,” Merfeld said, of the triathlon. “We fill 40 to 45 hotel rooms and people eat and spend their money in town.”

Merfeld said triathlons are a great spectator sport, and that people should enter Edgewater Park from the west gate because the east gate is closed.

The Land Between the Lakes Triathlon begins with a quarter-mile swim through Fountain Lake, followed by a 20-mile bike and 4.2-mile run.

Last year, Matthew Payne, of Columbia Heights won the men’s division in 1 hour and 15.52 seconds, and Brooke Larsen, of Northfield, won the women’s division in 1:37:16.